Why do Muslims fast?
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once a year during Ramadan, Muslims around the world refrain from eating,
drinking, smoking and marital relations from dawn to sunset. Along with
repeating the confession, ritual prayer, almsgiving and making the pilgrimage
to Mecca, fasting is one of the five "Pillars" or "acts of worship" which
are obligatory for all Muslims.
Keep in mind that the Islamic calender, which is lunar, is shorter than
our solar calender by about eleven days. This means that Ramadan moves forward
every year so that there are 33 lunar years--and 33 fasts--for every 32
solar years. In 1987, for example, the first of Ramadan fell on April 28th,
and in 1989 it fell on April sixth. When Ramadan comes during the summer
with its long, hot days, as in recent years, fasting can be quite an ordeal.
But why do Muslims go through this ordeal every year? The reason is quite
simple; it is commanded in the Qur'an: "O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed
for you even as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may fear
[God]." (2:183, see also 184-185) To give themselves more incentive to fast,
Muslims often stress its benefits. It develops self-control, curbs the passions
and selfishness, helps one feel for the poor and hungry, and so on. But
the primary reason Muslims fast is that they believe God has commanded them
to do so. Closely associated with this is the idea that fasting "pleases
God"--and will weigh in their favour on the Day of Judgement.
"Do Christians fast?" This is a question one is often asked in Muslim societies
where "everyone fasts." Certainly, we can say that the Bible does not command
us to fast. Most of us would probably also point to passages that show that
no amount of fasting, or any other "work of righteousness" for that matter,
can earn us God's favor. What we need is God's grace, the Saviour. And yet,
must we not also acknowledge that the Bible does commend fasting, when it
is undertaken to give one's self to prayer or as a spiritual exercise. But
how many Christians fast at all? While we cannot fast for the reason that
the Muslim fasts, perhaps we have something to learn from his zeal.
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